Some choices should be based solely on Scripture. We don’t need to pray about whether or not to commit adultery, steal from our employer, or avoid paying the taxes we owe. For each of these, God has clearly laid out instructions for us in His Word. But on areas where Scripture is silent, the Holy Spirit desires to guide our steps along the specific path the Father has chosen for us.
For instance, whom should you marry? Which career should you pursue? What home should you buy? True, the Bible gives a few guidelines on these topics. It tells us to marry only fellow believers, to steer clear of jobs that require unethical behavior, and to avoid overspending. But we also need specific guidance from God in these areas.
The Prompting of the Holy Spirit
After we have received Jesus as our Savior, the His Spirit dwells within us to direct our steps—the choices and decisions we should make, the work we should undertake, and the new attitudes and opinions we should adopt. Jesus said that one of the primary roles of the Holy Spirit is to guide us into all truth (John 16:13).
When God wants to clarify the next move He has for us or lead us in a new direction, He often uses what I call a “prompting.” This is like a flash of lightning in a person’s spirit that creates an almost immediate knowing of which way to turn, what to do, or how to respond. It comes with a deep assurance and confidence that the choice or decision is right.
Whenever we sense the Holy Spirit’s prompting, our all-wise God is communicating that He loves us enough to direct our steps in a particular situation. Much of what the Spirit directs us to do involves a potential loss or gain of something we deem important—either for ourselves or for others.
There are things we should avoid, discard, ignore, or put away. There are things we should reach out and receive, pay attention to, or act upon. On occasion, the Spirit also prompts us not to act or speak. At times I have clearly felt the Holy Spirit instructing me, “Sit down and don’t say a word.” Because His guidance differs moment by moment and person to person, it’s vital for each believer to look to Him for guidance.
How do you develop sensitivity to God’s leadership? Ask Him to increase your ability to discern His will in each situation. It’s His work, not yours, to impart sensitivity. When you experience His prompting, act on it immediately. Don’t second-guess what God tells you to do. Those who fail to act on the Holy Spirit’s gentle nudges never learn how to follow His leading.
If you have heard correctly, you will feel a growing peace and confidence regarding your choice. If you have heard incorrectly, you will feel unrest in your spirit. As with most things in life, we learn by trial and error.
An Example of God’s Prompting
I knew a young woman who was facing a decision about which college to attend. She had narrowed the choices to four Christian schools. When she visited the first two, she sensed a clear “no” from the Holy Spirit. After just a few hours on each campus, she felt ill at ease. Although these were good schools with excellent reputations, she knew in her spirit that they were not right for her. It wasn’t anything a specific person did or said; she just felt restless in her heart.
The last two colleges, however, seemed almost equal. She finally decided to attend the college that was closer to her home. Right before bed one night, she announced her choice to her family. She later recounted what happened: “I was awake most of the night. I tossed and turned and felt miserable. I had a nagging sense that I was making a mistake.”
The next morning, the young woman confessed to her mother, “I think I made the wrong choice. I’m changing my decision.” She felt peace all day long, and by evening, she knew she had made the right choice. After one semester at the college, she wrote a letter to her parents, saying how happy she was at the school and expressing gratitude that instead of deciding for her, they had encouraged her to seek God’s direction.
This young woman had experienced a series of promptings that led her to the final decision, which was God’s best for her. Now let me ask you: Do you believe this young woman has a much clearer understanding about how the Holy Spirit speaks in the human heart and prompts a person to move into right actions or decisions? Absolutely. She has learned a tremendous lesson about what it means to hear from God and to walk wisely.
If you are a believer in Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit lives inside you to provide step-by-step guidance into God’s personalized plan for your life. Will you sometimes misunderstand His guidance? Yes. But if you seek daily to obey God’s still, small voice, you will experience His very best.
Adapted from “Walking Wisely: Real Guidance for Life’s Journey” (2002).